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Page added on January 30, 2009

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DOE report paints bleak picture of our electric future

The US Department of Energy has snuck out a report on the future of the US electric grid, one that describes a huge series of challenges that we’ll face just to keep the power flowing in the coming decades.

There’s a long tradition of using Fridays to release reports you’d rather not see attract attention, and the Department of Energy has used the last Friday of the Bush Administration to release a big one. Its Electricity Advisory Committee, composed primarily of power industry executives, has released a series of reports on the future of the US electric grid. These include focused looks at the potential for power storage and the smart grid, but it’s the overall evaluation that’s badly off the administration’s message: the government needs to make a significant intervention in the power market, it’s completely failed to do so for the past eight years (and longer), and conservation needs to be part of anything we do.

We’ll take a look at the storage and smart grid reports separately, because the main report, entitled Keeping the Lights on in a New World, covers a lot of ground, a great deal of it depressing. It describes a number of issues that have stifled investment and innovation when it comes to the production and delivery of electric power. Most of these are familiar to anyone that has looked into our current situation, but the report’s authors present the problems in strikingly clear terms, and back their analysis up with a comprehensive look at the power markets. We’ll take a tour of the issues first, and then explain how they have played out in practical terms.

Ars Technica

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